The Internet Personified: A small Delhi lexicon
A smalle glossarie of slange
I’ve been beset by tiny misfortunes these past few weeks: first, K got the flu, and I was worried it might be The Flu, even though I thought it was unlikely—we don’t go to many places or meet many people and we’re pretty careful, to the point of paranoia sometimes, but you never know with the ‘rona, do you? One guy brushing past you at the supermarket, coughing gently over your shoulder, at an angle where the mask won’t stop it, well. Anything could happen.
What did happen was a week of me sleeping on the sofa bed while also being the general matron of the house. The cats were delighted with my company and woke me up at 5 most mornings to tell me so. My back got a bit busted from that bed, I think, it still hurts. Our robot vacuum cleaner bought with so much hope and joy stopped working. It flooded over my study ceiling and there’s a large hole in the plaster right now, so I have to cover up some books with a plastic sheet and wait for it to stop raining. I cut the inside of my finger on a light switch while I was turning it off and it’s now so swollen I can’t even type with it and I’m on antibiotics.
In the good news, K does NOT have COVID, and I am able to sleep on my own bed again which is blissful because we got this mattress topper that makes it feel like a hotel room. We keep getting drawn back to the bed as a result, and spent the last two days just lying on it. I’ve managed to drag myself out and into my office chair for some time, but we all know it’s only a matter of time before bed calls to me again. It’s like a siren song: come to me, sleep in meeee.
Heavy days though, there for a while. Happily, K is fully recovered, my antibiotics are very close to fixing the problem and as long as my finger is injured, I don’t have to do any housework OR feel guilty about it! Hurrah! Here, have a poem I wrote on the subject
And now, on to the MEAT of this thing. What I wanted to do for firsts, is talk about Hobson Jobson. Do you know Hobson Jobson? My copy looks like this
And was a present to my parents in 1979. I have happily stolen it off my mother’s shelves and it is now mine.
Sometimes, I meet people who I think will enjoy Hobson Jobson and I give them a copy, but I am discerning. It’s not for everyone. It’s basically a dictionary (?), a reference book of words that were used commonly across Anglo India, expanded to include Malaysia and Singapore and all the rest. Or words of an Anglo Indian origin. (I use Anglo Indian here not to refer to the people, but to British colonised India.)
I was thinking of Hobson Jobson, because I was trying to define the word “chop” for Samit. I even posted on my Twitter, looking for exactly the right definition but there is none, I think, nothing that would work in English. Here’s how a “chop” used to work in my time: you tried to humiliate a classmate, usually psychologically, by besting them at something, they finked on a dare or you could climb higher than them or something small and yet mortifying of that sort. Then, once you were sure that you had won, you waved your hands at them, one making a slicing gesture over the other, “chopping” if you will, and you called out loudly, “Chop! Chop! Chopsi!” as you grinned, a hard, mean grin.
As you grew older, and into the dignity of your teens, you stopped doing the hand gesture, or grinning quite so much, but you still allowed yourself a sort of inward smile as you murmured, “Chop” whenever you won and someone else lost, or when—it became more subtle, harder to define—when someone lost and you hadn’t won exactly, but they had lost more than you had.
I made a list of Delhi words that I felt needed illustrative guides, a Hobson Jobson of my own, and here is a small attempt at putting that together.
Down: I’m not sure if “down” was a country-wide word for your period, but it was a useful bit of slang to have, especially if you wanted to communicate to your GIRL friends that you had your period but didn’t want to share this with the boys who looked uncomfortable and/or disgusted whenever the subject came up. You just pointed your thumb downwards like a Roman Emperor and made that Universal Period Face, mouth twisted, eyebrows raised ruefully. “I’m down,” you’d say when people asked if you wanted to go play outside or go swimming. I’m not sure this is still in use since “I’m down” is also an Americanism for “I’m in.”
Cutty/Abba: From when I was very small, again with hand gestures. You’d say, “I’m cutty with you!” (I think it’s traditionally spelt “katti” but this way shows how it’s pronounced.) when you were fighting with someone. We stuck the nail of our thumbs behind our front two teeth and then made a forward jerking gesture to show exactly HOW cutty we were. When you wanted to make up, you said, “Okay, abba,” stuck the same thumb in your mouth but wriggled the rest of your fingers this time like you were playing a trumpet.
Bhaav: Bhaav is fun. I had it in You Are Here, where I think I defined it as “giving someone way more importance than they deserve".” Still works. But as I’ve grown older, I’m wondering if there’s not a more insidious caste/class resonance to “bhaav.” I know we used it to take a friend down a peg when they were giving themselves airs: “don’t give yourself so much bhaav” we’d say, but when you think of who is giving themselves importance in an Indian context and why and how and so on, there’s probably more to it than we used it as back in the day.
Choot: I know a lot of other Hindi speaking cities also probably use choot (cunt, but not quite as awful as using the word “cunt” in English), but it was our number one swear word. We used “choot” for everything, we were quite potty-mouthed, for each other, for people we interacted with but didn’t hate, for people we hated and so on. Everyone was a choot. In my old age, I don’t swear half as much as I used to in my Bold Bad Youth, so it feels a bit alien to remember a time that these words just slipped off my tongue like they were natural to me.
Killer: Literally: That’s great! That’s amazing! This might date me, do people still say “killer”? Do people still say any of these things? But “killer” was a Delhi-ism, I never heard it when I moved to Bombay, and I haven’t heard it outside of this city since. You could be quite blase about “killer,” for eg: “I’m in for tomorrow, see you then!” “Killer.”
Send me more words! Get your own Hobson Jobson!
Links I Liked
The hard work that goes into your box of cherries. (US-focused, but applies here too.)
The first week of my post-pandemic life.
Long read: how we hurt the animals we love.
The journey of the Rampur Book Club.
What it’s like to be named Osama.
Long read: on parenting influencers and the couple who gave away their adopted baby boy.
Related: imagine growing up in a 30-kid family.
Have a great week! I hope you (and I) successfully avoid all disasters.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you?Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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